Games People Play: Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (Warner Brothers 1954)


cracked rear viewer

Alfred Hitchcock  wasn’t afraid to take chances. When the 3-D craze hit in the 1950’s, the innovative director jumped on the new technology to make DIAL M FOR MURDER, based on Frederick Knott’s hit play. The film is full of suspense, and contains many of The Master’s signature touches, but on the whole I consider it to be lesser Hitchcock… which is certainly better than most working in the genre, but still not up to par for Hitch.

Knott adapted his play for the screen, and keeps the tension mounting throughout. The story is set in London, and revolves around ex-tennis pro Tony Wendice, whose wife Margot is having an affair with American mystery writer Mark Halliday. Tony comes up with an elaborate plot to have her murdered by stealing a love letter Mark has written and blackmailing her, then setting up his old school acquaintance C.A. Swann, a man…

View original post 403 more words

Here Are The Nominations From The Houston Film Critics!


This year, Houston proved once again that Texas is better than the upper 48.  In the face of adversity, Texans came together and helped each other out and basically but the rest of America to shame.

Then to top it all off, The Houston Film Critics got together and came up with an intriguing list of the films and performances that they consider to be the best of 2017!

Love you, Houston!

Here are their nominations:

Picture:
The Big Sick
Call Me By Your Name
Dunkirk
The Florida Project
Get Out
Lady Bird
Logan
The Post
The Shape of Water
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director:
Guillermo del Toro, “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig, “Lady Bird”
Christopher Nolan, “Dunkirk”
Jordan Peele, “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg, “The Post”

Actor:
Timothee Chalamet, “Call Me By Your Name”
James Franco, “The Disaster Artist”
Daniel Kaluuya, “Get Out”
Robert Pattinson, “Good Time”
Andy Serkis, “War for the Planet of the Apes

Actress:
Sally Hawkins, “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Brooklyn Prince, “The Florida Project”
Margot Robbie, “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan, “Lady Bird”

Supporting Actor:
Willem Defoe, “The Florida Project”
Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water”
Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Patrick Stewart, “Logan
Michael Stuhlbarg, “Call Me By Your Name”

Supporting Actress:
Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”
Dafne Keen, “Logan
Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer, “The Shape of Water”

Screenplay:
“The Big Sick,” Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani
“Get Out,” Jordan Peele
“Lady Bird,” Greta Gerwig
“The Post,” Elizabeth Hanna and Josh Singer
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Martin McDonagh

Cinematography:
Blade Runner 2049,” Roger Deakins
“Call Me By Your Name,” Sayombhu Mukdeeprom
“Dunkirk,” Hoyte van Hoytema
“The Shape of Water,” Dan Laustsen
“Wonder Wheel,” Vittoria Storaro

Animated Film:
“The Breadwinner”
“Coco”
“Despicable Me 3”
The Lego Batman Movie
“Loving Vincent”

Original Score:
Blade Runner 2049,” Ben Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer
“Dunkirk,” Hans Zimmer
“The Post,” John Williams
“The Shape of Water,” Alexandre Desplat
War for the Planet of the Apes,” Michael Giacchino

Best Original Song:
“Evermore” (“Beauty and the Beast”)
“I Get Overwhelmed” (“A Ghost Story”)
“Never Forget” (“Murder on the Orient Express”)
“Remember Me” (“Coco”)
“Visions of Gideon” (“Call Me By Your Name”)

Foreign Language Film:
“BPM”
“Blade of the Immortal”
“First They Killed My Father”
“The Square”
“Thelma”

Documentary Feature:
“Faces Places”
“Jane”
“Kedi”
“Step”
“The Work”

Visual Effects:
Blade Runner 2049
“The Shape of Water”
War for the Planet of the Apes

Poster:
Baby Driver
It
“Logan Lucky”
“Mother”
“The Shape of Water”

Texas Independent Film Award:
A Ghost Story
“Mr. Roosevelt”
“Mustang Island”
“The Secret Life of Lance Letscher”
Song to Song

Here Are The Nominations For the 23rd Annual Critics Choice Awards!


Awards season is in full swing!  I’m running a little bit behind in updating all of the precursor awards here on the Shattered Lens but hopefully, I’ll have the site up-to-date by the end of today!

For instance, today, the Broadcast Film Critics Association announced their nominations and, just judging from the number of nominations it received, it looks like they really, really liked Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water!

Here are the film nominees:

BEST PICTURE

“The Big Sick”
“Call Me by Your Name”
“Darkest Hour”
“Dunkirk”
“The Florida Project”
“Get Out”
“Lady Bird”
“The Post”
“The Shape of Water”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

BEST ACTOR

Timothée Chalamet – “Call Me by Your Name”
James Franco – “The Disaster Artist”
Jake Gyllenhaal – “Stronger”
Tom Hanks – “The Post”
Daniel Kaluuya – “Get Out”
Daniel Day-Lewis – “Phantom Thread”
Gary Oldman – “Darkest Hour”

BEST ACTRESS

Jessica Chastain – “Molly’s Game”
Sally Hawkins – “The Shape of Water”
Frances McDormand – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Margot Robbie – “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan – “Lady Bird”
Meryl Streep – “The Post”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Willem Dafoe – “The Florida Project”
Armie Hammer – “Call Me By Your Name”
Richard Jenkins – “The Shape of Water”
Sam Rockwell – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Patrick Stewart – “Logan
Michael Stuhlbarg – “Call Me by Your Name”

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Mary J. Blige – “Mudbound
Hong Chau – “Downsizing”
Tiffany Haddish – “Girls Trip”
Holly Hunter – “The Big Sick”
Allison Janney – “I, Tonya”
Laurie Metcalf – “Lady Bird”
Octavia Spencer – “The Shape of Water”

BEST YOUNG ACTOR/ACTRESS

Mckenna Grace – “Gifted”
Dafne Keen – “Logan”
Brooklynn Prince – “The Florida Project”
Millicent Simmonds – “Wonderstruck”
Jacob Tremblay – “Wonder”

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

“Dunkirk”
“Lady Bird”
“Mudbound”
“The Post”
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

BEST DIRECTOR

Guillermo del Toro – “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig – “Lady Bird”
Martin McDonagh – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Christopher Nolan – “Dunkirk”
Luca Guadagnino – “Call Me By Your Name”
Jordan Peele – “Get Out”
Steven Spielberg – “The Post”

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor – “The Shape of Water”
Greta Gerwig – “Lady Bird”
Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani – “The Big Sick”
Liz Hannah and Josh Singer – “The Post”
Martin McDonagh – “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Jordan Peele – “Get Out”

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

James Ivory – “Call Me by Your Name”
Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber – “The Disaster Artist”
Dee Rees and Virgil Williams – “Mudbound
Aaron Sorkin – “Molly’s Game”
Jack Thorne, Steve Conrad, Stephen Chbosky – “Wonder”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Roger Deakins – “Blade Runner 2049”
Hoyte van Hoytema – “Dunkirk”
Dan Laustsen – “The Shape of Water”
Rachel Morrison – “Mudbound
Sayombhu Mukdeeprom – “Call Me By Your Name”

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, Jeff Melvin – “The Shape of Water”
Jim Clay, Rebecca Alleway – “Murder on the Orient Express”
Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis – “Dunkirk”
Dennis Gassner, Alessandra Querzola – “Blade Runner 2049
Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer – “Beauty and the Beast
Mark Tildesley, Véronique Melery – “Phantom Thread”

BEST EDITING

Michael Kahn, Sarah Broshar – “The Post”
Paul Machliss, Jonathan Amos – “Baby Driver
Lee Smith – “Dunkirk”
Joe Walker – “Blade Runner 2049”
Sidney Wolinsky – “The Shape of Water”

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Renée April – “Blade Runner 2049
Mark Bridges – “Phantom Thread”
Jacqueline Durran – “Beauty and the Beast
Lindy Hemming – “Wonder Woman
Luis Sequeira – “The Shape of Water”

BEST HAIR AND MAKEUP

Beauty and the Beast
“Darkest Hour”
“I, Tonya”
“The Shape of Water”
“Wonder”

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Blade Runner 2049
“Dunkirk”
“The Shape of Water”
“Thor: Ragnarok”
War for the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

“The Breadwinner”
“Coco”
“Despicable Me 3”
“The LEGO Batman Movie”
“Loving Vincent”

BEST ACTION MOVIE

Baby Driver”
Logan”
“Thor: Ragnarok”
War for the Planet of the Apes”
“Wonder Woman”

BEST COMEDY

“The Big Sick”
“The Disaster Artist”
“Girls Trip”
“I, Tonya”
“Lady Bird”

BEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Steve Carell – “Battle of the Sexes”
James Franco – “The Disaster Artist”
Chris Hemsworth – “Thor: Ragnarok”
Kumail Nanjiani – “The Big Sick”
Adam Sandler – “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)”

BEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Tiffany Haddish – “Girls Trip”
Zoe Kazan – “The Big Sick”
Margot Robbie – “I, Tonya”
Saoirse Ronan – “Lady Bird”
Emma Stone – “Battle of the Sexes”

BEST SCI-FI OR HORROR MOVIE

Blade Runner 2049
“Get Out”
It
“The Shape of Water”

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

“BPM (Beats Per Minute)”
“A Fantastic Woman”
“First They Killed My Father”
“In the Fade”
“The Square”
“Thelma”

BEST SONG

“Evermore” – “Beauty and the Beast
“Mystery of Love” – “Call Me By Your Name”
“Remember Me” – “Coco”
“Stand Up for Something” – “Marshall”
“This Is Me” – “The Greatest Showman”

BEST SCORE

Alexandre Desplat – “The Shape of Water”
Jonny Greenwood – “Phantom Thread”
Dario Marianelli – “Darkest Hour”
Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer – “Blade Runner 2049”
John Williams – “The Post”
Hans Zimmer – “Dunkirk”

Here Are The Satellite Nominations!


la-la-land

The International Press Academy — a.k.a. the Oscar precursor that nobody cares about — announced their nominees for the best of 2016 earlier today and it was a very good day for a film that I cannot wait to see, La La Land!

Here are the Satellite nominations!

Special Achievement Award Recipients

Mary Pickford Award- Edward James Olmos
Tesla Award- John Toll
Auteur Award- Tom Ford
Humanitarian Award- Patrick Stewart
Best First Feature- Russudan Glurjidze “House of Others”
Best Ensemble: Motion Picture- “Hidden Figures”
Best Ensemble: Television- “Outlander”

Actress in a Motion Picture

Annette Bening, “20th Century Woman”
Emma Stone, “La La Land”
Natalie Portman, “Jackie”
Ruth Negga, “Loving”
Taraji P. Henson, “Hidden Figures”
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle”
Amy Adams, “Nocturnal Animals”

Actor in a Motion Picture

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea”
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Snowden”
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic”
Joel Edgerton, “Loving”
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Tom Hanks, “Sully
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Actress in a Supporting Role

Helen Mirren, “Eye in the Sky”
Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea”
Nicole Kidman, “Lion”
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures”
Naomi Harris, “Moonlight”
Viola Davis, “Fences”
 Actor in a Supporting Role

Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water”
Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight”
Dev Patel, “Lion”
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea”
Eddie Murphy, “Mr. Church”
Hugh Grant, “Florence Foster Jenkins”

Motion Picture

“La La Land”
“Moonlight”
“Manchester by the Sea”
“Lion”
“Jackie”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“Loving”
“Hell or High Water”
“Nocturnal Animals”
“Captain Fantastic”
“Hidden Figures”
“Fences”

 Motion Picture, International Film

“The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”- Finland
“Toni Erdmann”- Germany
“Julieta”- Spain
“A Man Called Ove”- Sweden
“The Salesman”- Iran
“The Ardennes”- Belgium
“Ma’ Rosa”- Philippines
“The Handmaiden”- South Korea
“Elle”- France
“Paradise”- Russia

Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media 
Title of Film
“Zootopia”
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Moana”
Finding Dory”
“My Life As a Zucchini”
“The Jungle Book”
“The Red Turtle”
“Miss Hokusai”
“Trolls”
“Your Name”

Motion Picture, Documentary

“Gleason”
“Life Animated”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“13th”
“The Ivory Game”
“The Eagle Huntress”
“Tower”
“Fire at Sea”
“Zero Days”
“The Beatles: Eight Days a Week”

Director

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals”
Pablo Larrain, “Jackie”
Denzel Washington, “Fences”

Screenplay, Original

Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight”
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land”
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea”
Taylor Sheridan, “Hell or High Water”
Matt Ross, “Captain Fantastic”
Yorgos Lanthimos/Efthymis Filippou, “The Lobster”

Screenplay, Adapted

Andrew Knight/Robert Schenkkan, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Luke Davis, “Lion”
Kieran Fitzgerald/Oliver Stone, “Snowden”
Justin Marks, “The Jungle Book”
Allison Schroeder, “Hidden Figures”
Todd Komarnicki, “Sully”

Original Score

Rupert Gregson Williams, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Justin Hurwitz, “La La Land”
Lesley Barber, “Manchester by the Sea”
John Williams, “The BFG”
John Debney, “The Jungle Book”
Hans Zimmer, “Hidden Figures”

Original Song

“Audition”- ‘La La Land’
“City of Stars”- ‘La La Land’
“Dancing with Your Shadow”- ‘Po’
“Can’t Stop the Feeling”- ‘Trolls’
“I’m Still Here”- ‘Miss Sharon Jones’
“Running”- ‘Hidden Figures’

Cinematography

John Toll, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Linus Sandgren, “La La Land
James Laxton, “Moonlight”
Simon Duggan, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Jani-Petteri Passi, “The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki”
Bill Pope, “The Jungle Book”

Visual Effects

“The Jungle Book”
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
“Doctor Strange”
“The BFG”
“Sully”
“Deadpool”

Film Editing

Tom Cross, “La La Land
Joi McMillon/Nat Sanders, “Moonlight”
Tim Squyres, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
Alexandre de Francheschi, “Lion”
John Gilbert, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Steven Rosenblum, “The Birth of a Nation”

Sound (Editing and Mixing)

La La Land
“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“The Jungle Book”
“Allied”
“13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi”

Art Direction and Production Design

David Wasco, “La La Land
Barry Robinson, “Hacksaw Ridge”
Jean Rabasse, “Jackie”
Christophe Glass, “The Jungle Book”
Gary Freeman, “Allied”
Dan Hennah, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”

Costume Design

Colleen Atwood, “Alice Through the Looking Glass”
Eimer Ní Mhaoldomhnaigh, “Love & Friendship”
Courtney Hoffman, “Captain Fantastic”
Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
Mary Zophres, “La La Land
Alexandra Byrne, “Doctor Strange”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (dir. by J.J. Abrams) Is the Sequel the Fandom Has Been Waiting For


Star Wars - The Force Awakens

[some minor, very minor spoilers]

When I first began this site on Christmas Eve of 2009 I had to thank the excitement I had for event films after seeing and experiencing James Cameron’s Avatar. It was an experience I hadn’t felt since the days of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and, even earlier than that, the original Star Wars trilogy. These were films that fired up one’s imagination, appreciation and love for film as entertainment and art. Some of these films would linger on longer in one’s mind than others, but that first viewing in their initial release would always imprint their effect on each viewer.

When George Lucas announced that he would be returning to that galaxy, far, far away with a trilogy of prequels almost 15 years since the world last saw Return of the Jedi premiere first the first time, the Star Wars fandom were giddy, excited and hyped beyond belief. The Star Wars films and the many spin-offs (novels, comic books, video games, etc.) which came about because of it only whetted the appetites of long-time Star Wars fans for more films detailing the adventures in the scifi universe created by George Lucas.

Yet, the prequels’ effect on these long-time fans would be the direct opposite of the effect the original trilogy had on the fandom. These three prequels (all directed and written by George Lucas himself) would do more than disappoint the fandom. It would create a schism between those who saw the original trilogy as the gateway to their fandom and those younger generation who never saw the original trilogy and had the prequels become their gateway to the fandom. Even to this day there would be some of the younger generation who truly believe that the prequels trump the original three films which began the franchise.

When news came down that Disney had bought Lucasfilm and everything which George Lucas had built and cultivated there was no chance in hell that there wouldn’t be another series of Star Wars despite the disaster which were the prequels. Lo and behold, it didn’t take long for Disney to greenlight the sequel to Return of the Jedi and have it set decades after the events of that film.

So, it is with Star Wars: The Force Awakens that the Star Wars fandom get to see whether their continued faith in the franchise was worth it or if they have been Charlie Brown’d once again and had the ball taken away at the very last second. It’s easy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great or it was awful. The true answer to whether this film succeeded in what it intended do was a bit more complicated.

Yet, if one was to look for an easy and simple answer then I’m happy to say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was great. It had it’s moments of logic gap and plot holes, but as an overall finished product the film succeeded in course-correcting the franchise from the nadir it was at with the culmination of the prequels. It wouldn’t have taken much to surpass the very low bar set by those prequels, but The Force Awakens leapfrogged that bar and went even higher.

The film does begin thirty years after the events of Return of the Jedi and we find out with the now familiar episode intro crawl that Luke Skywalker has disappeared since those events and the galaxy has remained in turmoil with his absence. The Galactic Empire has been defeated, but in its place a new danger in the form of the genocidal First Order has arisen from the Empire’s remains. Opposing the First Order is a sort of galactic force supported in secret by the New Republic and led by General (not Princess) Leia Organa calling themselves the Resistance. It’s the conflict between these two factions and the search for Luke that forms the narrative base for The Force Awakens.

The film doesn’t linger too long in explaining the events which occurred in that 30-year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. It doesn’t need it as we’re quickly introduced to the series’ new characters in the form of Poe Dameron, the best pilot in the galaxy, who has been sent on a secret mission by Leia to find the clues as to her brother’s whereabouts. Next in line was Kylo Ren who becomes this film’s analogue to the Darth Vader figure of the original trilogy. Yet, the bulk of the film was told through the eyes of Finn and Rey.  The former is First Order stormtrooper who has seen first-hand what the First Order truly stands for and not for the betterment of the galaxy. The latter is a young woman living life on the desert planet Jakku scavenging the graveyard of starship wreckage from a battle thirty year’s prior.

It’s through Rey and Finn that the audience learns through their adventures upon meeting up with each other on Jakku what has transpired since the Rebellion destroyed the second Death Star and killed Emperor Palpatine. To these two characters, the events from the original trilogy seem to have passed beyond the realm of history and become more like legends and myths to the younger generation. Through a combination of fear and awe, Ren and Finn get introduced to some of the original trilogies main characters (Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca and even Admiral Ackbar). These are the stories they’ve been told of growing up come to life right in front of their eyes and their reaction mirrors those of the audience who haven’t seen these characters in anything new and relevant since the end of Return of the Jedi. The reaction alone to seeing Han Solo and Chewbacca alone seemed like the fandom’s collective cheer for the good that has been missing with the franchise for over 30 years now.

The Force Awakens is not a perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Like mentioned earlier, the film does suffer from some gaps in story logic and plot holes. As with most J.J. Abrams directed films he had a hand in writing the script and one could see where he sacrificed coherent storytelling beats for something that just pushed the story along the path he wanted the film to take. For those who have been steeped in Star Wars lore and backstory, this would be easily explained as the Force nudging, guiding and, if all else fails, pushing the characters onto the right path, but for the casual viewers it would come off as story beats of convenience.

As a story to bring back the faithful and lure in those still uninitiated to the franchise The Force Awakens straddles the line between nostalgia and trying to bring in something new to the proceedings.

Let’s begin with the former and just say it now that The Force Awakens does follow some major story beats directly from A New Hope (to a smaller effect from Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi). One could almost say that this film was a sort of soft reboot of the original trilogy with how it lifted ideas from them and through some writing and directing recombination come up with something new, but still very familiar for hardcore and non-fans alike.

Does this decision to lean heavily on the original trilogy for ideas hurt the film? For some it might be a bit too distracting to recognize too many callbacks to those earlier films, but for most it’s a reminder of what the prequels lacked and that’s the sense of adventure and fun. There was never anything fun about the prequels. The Force Awakens brings it all back and for most viewers this is the course-correction the series has needed since the last images from Revenge of the Sith faded away from the silver-screen.

Even the new characters introduced in this latest film were an amalgamation of the main characters from the original trilogy. Where Abrams and Kasdan changed this up a bit was to go beyond just creating new analogues for the classic characters of Leia, Han, Luke, Chewie and R2D2. They opted to take all the qualities fans loved about those characters and mixed them all up to be used in the roles of Rey, Finn, Poe, Kylo Ren and BB8.

As the standout character in the film, Rey (played by find of the year Daisy Ridley) would bring back memories of not just the young and hopeful Luke from the original trilogy, but also some personal traits of Leia and Han. The same goes for Finn who at times reminded us of Han’s roguish charm to Luke’s naivete of his role in the larger world he has finally witnessed for the very first time. For the half-empty crowd this might look as lazy character development, but those who see the film with the half-full mindset would easily latch onto these new characters. Characters who now take on the responsibility of moving the franchise beyond the nostalgia of the original trilogy and erasure of the disappointment of the prequels to new adventures with the next two films.

So, is Star Wars: The Force Awakens worth returning back to the franchise after the prequels or is it too much of a rehash of the original three films? The answer to that is a definite yes despite some of it’s flaws. For some the very flaws some have pointed out (too many callbacks, sort of a reboot, etc.) was what made the film a fun time to be had. It’s a return to the comfort zone the fandom missed with the prequels.

Will the next two films in this new trilogy follow suit and just rely too much on nostalgia to continue trying to satisfy it’s massive audience? Or will Rian Johnson and Colin Trevorrow (director of Episode VIII and Episode IX, respectively) move into new territory with minimal callbacks to those earlier films? We as an audience will have to wait til 2017 and 2019 to find out. Until then enjoy what Abrams and Lucasfilm has accomplished with The Force Awakens. A film which has reinvigorated a film franchise that has seem some major lows, but one which also happens to be one hell of a fun ride from start to finish on it’s own merits.

P.S.: Some controversy has arisen since the film’s release concerning the character played by Daisy Ridley. Some have been very vocal about calling her Rey character as a sort of knee-jerk reaction to the accusation that the Star Wars films have lacked for a strong female lead. An argument that’s as misguided and misinformed as that of the films being whitewashed. The films in the franchise have always had strong female characters. The accusation that Rey as a character in The Force Awakens is such a “Mary Sue” (a female character written and created to be the best at everything, no flaws) ignore the details in the character’s development.

What’s sadder is that some of the very people (film critics and writers) who in the past have complained that major films (especially blockbusters) have been lacking in very strong female characters have been the very same who see Rey as a negative and a character too good. This despite the character following in the very same footsteps in how her predecessors have been written (Luke, Han, Anakin). It’s an argument that is sure to bring heated debate among fans and detractors, but one that takes away from the performance of Daisy Ridley who should be one of the many breakout stars to come out of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Sci-Fi Review: The Empire Strikes Back (dir. by Irvin Kershner)


empire_strikes_back_style_aThe Year was 1980.

Though three years had passed since A New Hope’s release, it was never truly gone. In the time between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, there was a huge jump in Science Fiction. Films like Alien, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and  The Black Hole jumped on the sci-fi wave and kept audiences busy. If you didn’t want to go to the movies, you could always watch the original Battlestar Galactica.

My father was always a stickler for presentation when it came to movies. It had to be the biggest screen and the best sound available, if possible. My parents took my brother and I on what felt like one of the longest road trips to see the movie. Like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, some films were presented in a 70MM format. In the early 80’s, saying “Panavision” was like saying “IMAX” today. The only problem with this was that Dad decided we should sit like 3 rows from the screen. It remains one of my favorite Star Wars related experiences.

There was a bit of a scare before the film was made. Sometime before production, Mark Hamill was involved in a car accident that broke his nose and part of his cheek. The reconstructive surgery required part of his ear to fix his nose, and anyone watching the film could tell that he looked pretty different from A New Hope. It was like watching Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge and then following that with The Stepford Wives. Still, the accident didn’t get in the way of production and it’s believed that Hamill’s damaged look may have actually helped add some authenticity to the Wampa scene, where he’s attacked by a Yeti-looking creature.

If A New Hope was the feel good movie of the year, with heroes winning the day, then The Empire Strikes Back was a downer of a film. Everyone you rooted for in the first film is made to face a challenge that completely knocks them down a peg. It’s almost a perfect middle part to any trilogy. There’s an improvement in nearly every part of the process in the movie, despite the fact that George Lucas didn’t have the directorial duties. It’s as if most of the money earned from A New Hope was moved to ILM’s R&D department. The sound and visual effects have improved, thanks to better blue screen work and recording equipment and the rotoscoping for the lightsabers is sharper. John Williams was brought back to score the film, which features a new theme both for the Empire, Yoda and Han & Leia’s love story.

From a writing standpoint, The Empire Strikes Back serves as the best example of Lucas getting out of the way. Though the story is his, the screenplay was written by both Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Between the two of them and director Irwin Kershner’s input, Empire has the tightest characterization of all the films (in my opinion). We’re given a love story that’s both subtle and believable, a villain worth hating without being overly campy, and a hero who discovers that as good as he believes himself to be, he still has much to learn. There’s also an element of comedy peppered throughout, with James Earl Jones and Harrison Ford getting some of the best lines and/or moments. New characters are introduced in the form of Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) and Boba Fett (Played by Jeremy Bulloch and voiced by Jason Wingreen. On a trivia side note, Frank Oz and George Lucas would reunite some years later in Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, produced by Lucas.

The film opens with the Empire sending out probes to locate the rebel forces. There a focus on the Rebellion, stationed on the icy planet of Hoth. The audience is allowed to catch up on our heroes. Luke Skywalker is slowly learning the ways of the Force and is coming into his own. Han Solo and Chewbacca remain his friends and have stayed behind, rather than choosing to leave. Both gentlemen have an awkward approach towards Princess Leia, who continues to lead the Alliance. When Han and Chewie stumble on one of the Empire’s droids, it’s clear they’re going to have to be ready for battle.

The audience is brought back to the Empire’s viewpoint with a grand introduction to former henchman turned major villian, Lord Darth Vader. Seeing as he survived the attack on the first death star (and no one challenged him) he saw fit to give himself a promotion. With the promotion came some perks, including a super Star Destroyer complete with his own little pod chamber. Vader begins a relentless assault on the rebel troops in his search for Luke, who he’s recognized as having some Force abilities. This turns out to be Vader’s one big mistake. While his attentions are focused on the Millenium Falcon, Luke travels to the planet Dagobah to see out Master Yoda. As this was some time before CGI, the original Yoda was more or less a Muppet. Mind you, this was probably a shock to a many viewers. Obi-Wan was good, but this little green fellow was a Jedi? How did that even happen? Still, he was awesome. Through Yoda, Luke gains more skill with the force, but he leaves before he can finish.

The battle itself is an air to ground one, with giant walking tanks (AT-AT’s) on the Empire’s side and Snowspeeders for the rebels. While it’s a great fight, the Rebels are forced to escape their home, looking more like the Quarian Migrant Fleet in Mass Effect by the end of the film. The scene is a great example of how the technology in the Star Wars universe has grown. New ships such as the Tie Bomber also made an appearance. For each film in the series, you’re introduced to some new vehicle and/or weapon. One can only hope that with The Force Awakens, we’ll see more than just Tie Fighters and X-Wings.

Vader eventually catches up with Solo and the Princess by way of Boba Fett, a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter working for Jabba the Hutt. Cinema audiences still wouldn’t see Jabba until 1983’s Return of the Jedi, but it was a good foreshadowing. Under the impression they’ve escaped the Empire, Han & Leia head over to the Cloud City at Bespin, where Han is reunited with his old friend Lando Calrissian. Here we gain a bit of backstory on how Solo acquired the Falcon. It all seems a little too perfect and safe until we all discover that the bad guys (yet again) have the drop on our heroes.

Solo is tortured, along with the rest of the friends in an effort to lure Luke to Bespin. The Empire uses the Cloud City’s carbonite system on Solo as a test (considering that the process could kill him) for when Skywalker arrives. This results in one of the best one liners in the original trilogy, as well as one of the saddest scenes. Five year old me cried so much, this film was just depressing at every turn.

With the stage set for the showdown between Luke and Vader, the Lightsaber battle was cut between the escape of Leia, Chewie and Lando, who takes the place of Han as the Millenium Falcon’s pilot. The fight is slow compared to the prequels, but Vader is his best here, easily besting Luke with one hand at the start while trying to seduce him to the Dark Side of the Force. It’s a beautifully lit sequence by cinematographer Peter Suschitzky that would end with a revelation that would leave audiences questioning the film for the 3 years leading up to Return of the Jedi. Luke is able to escape Vader, but given the knowledge that he could be his father, everything changes for him from a character standpoint. Why did Obi-Wan lie to him about it? Can he, knowing Vader is his father, kill him? Should he, even?  Granted, as anyone who’s seen Pitch Perfect knows (or anyone who’s studied basic German), Vader means Father in German. How he didn’t see that coming is beyond me. Then again, when I first saw the film it was news to me, too.

So, there you have The Empire Strikes Back, easily the best film in the entire Star Wars saga. It’s proof that a Star Wars film can be made without Lucas controlling every aspect of it – though it should be noted that as Executive Producer, he was on hand in just about every other scene. We’ll around out our Star Wars coverage on the Eve of The Force Awakens’ release with Return of the Jedi.

Scenes I Love: Star Wars – A New Hope (Part 2)


Binary Sunset

It is Star Wars month as we move closer and closer to the release of the latest film in the Star Wars franchise. I chose a few weeks back a favorite scene from the very first Star Wars which came out in 1977. This favorite scene is the first of three that make up the three specific scenes I love from Star Wars: A New Hope.

This second favorite scene also shows up in the early part of the film. The first scene I chose showed the wow factor of the space battle and capture of the Rebel Alliance frigate and the introduction of one of filmdom’s greatest and most iconic villains in Darth Vader. This latest chosen scene introduces us to his polar opposite in the young Luke Skywalker on the planet Tatooine.

It’s a scene that focuses on the hope and dreams of a young man stuck in a place he knows he doesn’t belong. He believes that he’s meant to be doing something more important and we find out later on in the film that his feeling is correct. It helps that the scene was helped by the score of one John Williams whose musical track playing in the background — aptly titled “Binary Sunset” — gives it a sense of longing and a promise of a better future.